The untold story of Reynaldo Loleyo: The commander of the 1955 Torit mutineers

Posted: June 8, 2018 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan, Mangar Amerdit

By Comrade Mangar Amerdid, Juba, South Sudan

Friday, June 8, 2018 (PW) — The Torit Mutiny of 1955 which herald the First Sudan civil war and saw the call for the autonomy of the Southern region played a critical role in the history of the Republic of South Sudan. The refusal by the Southern Equatoria Corps to board lorries that would have transported them to Khartoum was justified given the threats they had received from Northerner administrators. On August 18, 1955, the Southern Equatoria Corps revolted and rushed to the town of Torit where they broke into arms and ammunition stores, taking with them military equipments. Northern officers, settlers and traders ended up being killed by the mutineers.

The fight for the freedom and independence of the Southern region were hampered in various ways from the lack of organization by the mutineers to insufficient amount of military and foreign support. A British diplomat named Sir Alexander Knox Helm played a critical role in events that unfolded during the Torit Mutiny. When Sir Robert Howe resigned as the Governor General of Sudan, he was replaced by Sir Knox Helm in 1955. Sir Knox Helm was born in 1893.

He obtained his education from King’s College in Cambridge and by 1912, he was working in the Foreign Office of England. During World War I, Sir Knox Helm worked as a volunteer in the service where he joined a field artillery unit rising to the position of second lieutenant. When the conflict ended, Sir Knox Helm held various positions; he was the British Consul in Addis Ababa from 1937 to 1939 and served as counselor in Washington D.C. from 1939 to 1942. He also held the position of the British Ambassador to Turkey.

In 1953, Sir Knox Helm retired from the Foreign Service. When the position for the Governor General of Sudan was vacated, Sir Knox Helm came out of retirement and had his name submitted by the British government to the Egyptian government as a replacement to Sir Howe. Due to the British – Egyptian condominium rule in Sudan, it was customary for the British to suggest to Egypt who should fill certain positions. The Egyptian government approved Sir Knox Helm’s appointment and in 1955, Sir Knox Helm took up the post of the Governor General of Sudan.

When the Torit Mutiny took place on August 18th, 1955 and subsequently spread throughout the various regions of the Equatoria, one of the key leaders of the mutineers to emerge was a Southerner by the name of Reynaldo Loleyo. Assuming command of the mutineers in Torit, Loleyo was to guide the mutineers to attack Juba where the only Northern army was stationed in Southern Sudan.

However, the pressure of being pursued by Northern troops who had come from Juba to Torit, overwhelmed Loleyo. Each day, the Royal Air Force (RAF) planes landed in Juba with a batch of Northern soldiers.

In addition, the pressure exerted by Sir Knox Helm on Loleyo and the Torit mutineers to surrender was immense. The following is a telegram sent by Sir Knox Helm to Loleyo to hand himself in. Sir Knox Helm stated, “Mr. Azhari has given you his personal word about a full and fair investigation and treatment as military prisoners if you surrender. I myself now give you the same assurance.”

Entrusting his fate on the words of Sir Knox Helm, Loleyo surrendered on 28th August 1955. With the assistance of Loleyo, the Torit mutineers numbering 200 were captured. Those who were not detained sought refuge in other regions of Southern Sudan or went into exile in Congo.

The Torit mutineers including Loleyo were tried in special courts and shortly thereafter, they were all executed. On December 21, 1955, Sir Knox Helm left Southern Sudan and he never returned.

Above, we discussed the Torit Mutiny which occurred in Southern Sudan on August 18th, 1955. We also addressed the crippling role Sir Alexander Knox Helm, the Governor General of Sudan played in impeding the progress of the mutineers.

On August 1955, the Southern Equatoria Corps made of Southern Sudanese, who were under the administration of Northern Arabs, revolted and refused to be transported to Khartoum where they feared their lives were in danger.

The Torit mutineers led by a Southerner named Reynaldo Loleyo, broke into arms and ammunition shops in the town of Torit, confiscating military equipment which they used to not only attack their Northern Arab administrators but also Arab settlers and traders residing in Torit.

The uprising rapidly spread to different Southern regions from Kapoeta, Terekeka, Yei, Loka, Maridi, Mundri, Yambio and Nzara. There are several reports that provide different figures of the number of casualties during the mutiny. One report indicates there were a total of 261 Northerners and 75 Southerners killed during the uprising, while not a single European perished during the uprising.

The leader of the Torit mutineers, Loleyo was born in Torit. He obtained rudimentary education in Ikotos prior to joining the military in the 1930s. By the 1950s, he rose to the rank of second lieutenant. With his ability to speak many languages from Acholi, Latuka, Arabic and some level of English, it enabled him to easily communicate with individuals from different sectors of society.

Loleyo emerged as the leader of the Torit mutineers at the time when Fr. Saturnino Lohure was imprisoned and Lt. Emilio Tafeng was not present. During the mutiny, Loleyo sought military assistant from the King’s African Rifles (KAR) in East Africa who had previously provided assistance.

At this period, the Prime Minister of Sudan was a Northerner named Ismail al-Azhari. A telegram was sent from Sir. Knox Helm with the support of Al-Azhari to Loleyo through the private secretary of Sir Knox Helm, Mr. T. W. H. Luce and the former deputy governor of Equatoria. The telegram summoned Loleyo and the Torit mutineers to surrender with the promise of a fair trial; Loleyo signed the Surrender Agreement.

Therefore, between the 31st August to 1st September 1955, Loleyo coordinated the movement of Northern troops into Torit and assisted them in rounding up the mutineers who had not fled Torit. Loleyo also assisted the Northern troops in restoring calm in Torit

Once the task was accomplished, Loleyo was arrested and transported to Juba. While Loleyo was in prison, Lt. Tafeng and other Southerners held him accountable for the collapse of the revolt. In his final days, Loleyo accepted the responsibility of aiding the North Sudan and European powers in squashing the efforts and halting the progress of the Torit mutineers.

Under court-martial, Loleyo and close to 200 mutineers were found guilty of inciting a rebellion and were subsequently executed in Juba. It is widely believed that Loleyo was tortured to death.

The death of the Torit mutineers and Loleyo gave rise to the Anya-Nya rebellion movement in 1963. The sacrifice of the mutineers continues to be remembered and honored, as August 18th marks an important day in the Republic of South Sudan.

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website. If you want to submit an opinion article, commentary or news analysis, please email it to PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website do reserve the right to edit or reject material before publication. Please include your full name, a short biography, email address, city and the country you are writing from.

  1. Thank you very much for the history.


  2. amogpai says:

    Dear Mr. Mangar Amerdid, thank you very much for this valuable information that was not known for many South Sudanese.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s